While Alwy Hogge, the King and Queen, and other residents of the Cursed Valley were having interesting adventures, Freeman Egelric Wodehead and his wife Elfleda were living and working quietly in the shadow of Nothelm Keep.

Egelric was a hardworking and respectable farmer, and Duke Alred was happy to have him on his lands. He knew that Egelric’s dream was to learn how to read, so he loaned him a book, and sometimes he stopped by the little house to give Egelric a few lessons. Alred thought that Egelric might make a good steward some day with a little education.

But the Duke and the other residents of the valley didn’t know that the quiet, polite man was hiding a broken heart. Since they had married, his wife had had two early miscarriages, but was pregnant again when they came to their new home. This time the months passed without danger, and her belly grew, and Egelric finally dared to make a little cradle. But then Elfleda came down with a fever, and the baby was born early—dead.

Egelric didn’t know whether it was the fever or the sorrow, but Elfleda wasn’t the same after that day. She turned her back to him whenever they lay together in bed. Of course, she mustn’t have wanted to suffer losing any more children, but she could have talked to him, could have told him so.

Worse, sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night and find her gone. He would creep out of bed to find Elfleda outside in her nightgown, walking up and down beneath the birches and muttering to herself. Superstitious Egelric was not, but it frightened him that she wandered outside at night with the old ruined church just across the road.

When he found her outside, she never seemed to know where she was or what she was doing, and when he would gently lead her back to bed she would sometimes call him Alwy. Indeed, sometimes he would see her staring at Alwy with the strangest look on her face, as if the simple-​minded man knew the answer to some question she was afraid to ask.

Elfleda stares at Alwy strangely

Egelric’s mother warned him when he married a girl with red hair that he would have nothing but ill luck. But Elfleda had been so charming, so happy. He wondered now whether it had not been a mistake to bring her here. Perhaps the valley was cursed after all.